I often think I was born a couple hundred years too late. I can see myself with a coon skin hat, riding a buckskin colored horse, holding a 30/30 Winchester rifle, shooting the breeze with someone like Jim Bridger. Some of my favorite movies are set during that period of time when the west was still a wilderness frontier and the Indians lived on the plains. Two of my favorite movies of all time are Kevin Costner’s “Dances with Wolves” and “Last of the Mohicans.”
If you’ll remember, in both movies Indians were used to help the soldiers track people they considered fugitives. These Native Americans were referred to as scouts and their job was to lead the soldiers to the renegades. They would stay close to the ground and search for signs that would tell them the direction, speed, and number of horses, in the fleeing band. Their expertise in tracking, a skill probably gained as they hunted for food, told them about the travels of the fugitives. A broken twig, a light impression in the dirt, disturbed grass, all these were signs that told a story. By following these kinds of clues they were able to zero in on and find the party on the run.
One of our jobs as a parent is to identify the strengths and natural gifts of our children. Doing so requires our earnest attention because most gifts are subtle and need nurturing to blossom. Finding them requires a sensitivity to strengths that others with less skill or interest would miss. Parents who are attuned to their child will observe the gifts in their children and in the process find subtle evidence leading to the child’s strengths, their passion, and the things that make them uniquely able to contribute to the world.
Years ago I developed a coaching process for managers of business organizations that I titled Solution-Focused Coaching. It was developed in part by using some of the principles and philosophy from Solution Focused Therapy and other strength based models. Essentially this coaching model is an approach to developing people by keying into their strengths and talents. Rather than concentrating on people’s mistakes and weaknesses, the manager’s focus shifts to successes and areas of natural ability. Weaknesses are managed, but are not the center of attention.
As a parent would you consider yourself adept at finding your child’s strengths or are you more likely to focus more on their weaknesses? My guess is that most of us, most of the time, tune into the weaknesses, mistakes, and immaturity of our teens. We believe that if we do not help them overcome their weaknesses and poor decision making, these “flaws” will come back to ruin them or at least severely limit their potential. While there is some truth to the fact that choices lead to consequences and those consequences can be devastating, operating out of fear will cause us to spend a disproportionate amount of time focusing on their weaknesses. And the truth is, this type of scrutiny rarely fixes the weaknesses and certainly doesn’t help them develop their strengths.
Excellence or greatness comes when natural gifts are tapped into, or when someone’s passion is identified and facilitated. Higher levels are achieved when what is natural and already present is built upon. This does not mean that parents shouldn’t deal with weaknesses. This is necessary, but we must keep in mind that this is not the route to excellence.
My hope for you in reading today’s blog is that you will learn to sense when you are on the trail of a strength, or when you are close to uncovering a significant motivator for your child. I think you will learn that your greatest tools are your eyes and ears, and the most important belief is that the child you are thinking about already has within himself or herself the strengths needed to overcome problems and achieve success. Carrying and vocalizing such a belief will give you a balanced approach that will help your child’s strengths and potential blossom.